Solomon Islands: Cuban doctors a 'blessing'

Here is a good news story.

Five years after the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) military-political intervention began, this poor South Pacific nation has only one doctor per 10,000 people.

But on June 12 the arrival of two Cuban doctors under a medical cooperation agreement, negotiated under the previous Manasseh Sogovare government, was greeted as "a blessing to the people of Solomon Islands" by the country's under secretary for health, Dr Cedric Alependava.

One of the doctors is a physician specialist and the other an anaesthetic specialist. Alependava said that these are the two fields where the National Referral Hospital is currently having difficulties with. Another eight of Cuban doctors will arrive some time later this year and eventually the number will rise to 40.

Under the medical cooperation program, 25 students from the Solomon Islands have been studying medicine in Cuba since February and another 25 will leave for Cuba in July. The Solomon Islands government will pay US$300 per month for the Cuban doctors' allowance but the Cuban government will pay for their salaries.

Cuban medical cooperation is making a huge impact elsewhere in the South Pacific: In East Timor, Cuba provides the majority of doctors in this nation, while Cuba is training 1000 Timorese medical students. In Kiribati, the total number of doctors in that country increased from 20 to 30 in 2006 with the recruitment of 10 doctors from Cuba.

About 20 young people from Kiribati are studying medicine in Cuba and another 25 are soon to join them, according to Dr Tim Anderson who has made two films about Cuban medical cooperation in the Pacific. Screenings of his latest film, Doctors of Tomorrow, a film about Cuban medical aid to Timor Leste can be obtained at http://www.asia-pacific-action.org/node/45.

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